Something that excited my curiosity was the fact that, although he is from Nepal, he writes in English. Being a teacher of English myself and a writer, I couldn't help but ask a lot of questions. Here they are. I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I did. Mr Bhatt's books are available in Amazon.
When did you start writing and what motivated you?
I started writing short stories when I was living alone in a flat in Kathmandu. I used to read a lot during those days but I did not find any book which had my kind of stories. Also at that time, the political revolution in Nepal was beginning to unfold. It was a fascinating time. The state controlled everything that was published then. So any writing, even the private act of writing, was an act of rebellion against the state.
This idea of rebellion thrilled me. Writing was also a kind of assertion of your individuality in a highly collective and communal society. There were a lot of expectations and excitement in the air so there were stories one could pick and tell. We have come a long way since then. But I believe my motivation to write has not changed, as most of the matters remain the same as well.
Why did you decide to write in English? When you write a novel or stories, do you write them in English straight away or do you write in your L1 and then translate them?
I thought English would be the language the younger generations would use more often. Also the intelligentsia here follows anything written in English more seriously. Then there is also a wider audience outside the country.
I write in English directly. Earlier I used to write on paper and then feed the texts into the computer but my novel 'The royal enigma', for example, I began writing it directly on my laptop. However, I made notes on paper about the matters that came as an afterthought. The first draft of the novel grew twice in size when the novel was completed. It took me only a month to complete the first draft but a year to complete the book. It could have grown more but I feared the original focus of the story would be lost. I saw the ending clearly from the beginning.
What differences do you perceive in yourself as a writer when you write in your mother tongue and in English? What difficulties do you face?
I seldom write seriously in my native language.
While writing in English the stories of Nepali people, I find it difficult to explain certain matters which come to me more easily in my language. I constantly worry if a reader outside Nepal will be able to understand what I have written. For example, in one story I mentioned that in a Nepali village milk tea is not offered to a stranger lest it would invite bad omens to affect the supply of milk from the livestock of the household. For a native of Nepal this is easy to understand but it may not be for a foreigner.
Similarly, in another story I described how the higher caste people buy and consume eggs from the poultry of a farmer of a lower caste in a discreet way, as they are not supposed to eat an impure food like eggs and , to make matters worse, produced by a lower caste man. An English lady once asked me how this is possible. I tried to explain these matters as they exist in a village in Nepal. She was not convinced. But the natives will easily accept this as normal.
How do you start writing a novel or a story? What is your ‘process of writing’?
I write very less often these days. But am always thinking about writing. The actual act of writing occurs when the things in my head find that there is an urgency to tell a story and I think of the characters and incidents which the readers will find interesting to know and relate to. So it is a need to attract the attention of the people through an engaging story.
After I write the skeleton of the story, I usually find there is something more I can add in between, which will entertain the readers more. So there is a reader and an audience in mind. Then there is a need to document your world into the minds of people through the story.
An English friend once said that the world we know is no more after us. His words caused me panic for a long time then. Somehow, I have tried to reduce that possibility. I hope my world will be alive even after me through my stories. Then there is the flattering notion that I am passing some wisdom to my readers.
In your novels and stories, you describe the social and political history of your country in great detail. How do you think your country has changed in all these years since you started writing, if at all?
Yes. I describe the social and political details too. I have seen so much happening during a decade or two that I am afraid I may not be able to remember what I had seen at certain time, in the social and political landscape of the country and the world. Its description by others does not represent what I have thought about it. I once said, 'Narrative of the day is not worth my while, I need to create my own'. So...
The country and the world have changed beyond my imagination. I am fascinated by it. So there is a need to explain how it happened and what it may mean. I try to make my point about it in my writing. Also I am tormented by the opposite thought: Has anything really changed?
Could you describe the literary scene in Nepal? What would you say is the role of a writer in Nepal right now?
The literary world of Nepal has expanded unbelievingly after the country did away with the totalarian state and the freedom of speech was established. the press in Nepal is the freest in the region. The literature produced by new writers in the native language is widely read and talked about. For them writing is already a viable profession. But that is all. It still has to go a long way. The sensitivity and refinement take a long time to occur.
Who are your 5 favourite writers?
I like Guy De Maupassant, V S Naipaul, D H Lawrence, Prem Chand and Samrat Upadhyay. Prem Chand is a very popular Hindi writer of India. He is the best one for me, or next only to Maupassant.
A novel or story you would have liked to have written?
Something as comprehensive as 'Godan' of Prem Chnd; crisp and meaningful as Maupassant’s 'Boule de Suif'; Something as authentic and empathic like Naipaul’s 'A house for Mr Biswas' or Lawrence’s 'Sons and lovers' , 'The guru of love' by Samrat Upadhyay. There is so much good work that life looks meaningful. I read Bolero and Sherman Alixie and Julia Alvarez, the non-native and Spanish-speaking writers who also wrote in or were translated into English. I was really charmed. Then I read 'The tin drum' by Gunter Grass, I was taken aback with surprise. 'The great Gatsby' I read recently. I was amazed how much the author achieved in a very short novel.
There are many Indian writers who have become internationally famous like Tagore and Naipaul, Arundhati Roy, Anita Desai or Vikram Seth. However, Nepalese writers are not known in Europe. Why do you think this is so?
As I said before, the literary tradition of Nepal was inhibited by a lack of freedom of expression until two decades ago. Years ago, Nepalese writers lived in India and published their books from there. Now it has flourished in Nepal like anything. But it will take time to mature it. Also being a country next to China, Nepal is attracting the attention of the world. But the literature produced in Nepal is not as refined. However, writers like Samrat Upadhyay are gradually making Nepali writing in English popular in the USA and in Europe too, to some extent.
However, there is some good work from the times when there was no freedom of speech written in Nepali which needs to be translated into English to attract the wider audience.
Do you perceive any differences between your readers in this part of the world and readers in Asia? Do you write with a particular reader in mind.
I expect that a South Asian reader would understand a cultural nuance of Nepal more easily than a European redder. But a Chinese reader may totally miss it. Because Nepal is interacting with Europeans more than with Chinese. But cultural nuances apart, good writing is universal. I have in my mind a specific reader, but not someone who I know when I write. I think I write for a very distant reader who will really understand me. So the loneliness is there.